My worst moment: 'The Simpsons' star Harry Shearer and the confused (and hostile!) Spinal Tap audience

By Nina Metz, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Entertainment News

When Harry Shearer is not busy working on "The Simpsons," where he is the voice of characters including Mr. Burns, Ned Flanders, Principal Skinner and Waylon Smithers, he's often making music for his radio show, "Le Show."

"The writing part came out of necessity and habit," Shearer said. "I pay attention to the news because that's what I make fun of, and because Donald Trump is a person who demands constant attention, I pay him that attention. And sometimes if a phrase or behavior makes me think, that becomes a song. At the beginning of the year I noticed I had written a lot of songs in the voice of, and about, Donald Trump. And I thought it would be cool to do them up right, go into the studio and record them, and it struck me that the appropriate way to put them out was one a week (on his YouTube channel) leading up to the election."

"The Simpsons" is back for its 32nd season. Has Shearer ever dreamed in the voice of any of his characters? "I never remember my dreams," he said. What about distinctive voices, has he hit his limit? "No, because I'm always listening ... I was listening to the postmaster general this morning and thinking he is halfway to Elmer Fudd, and I was thinking about how I would do his voice."

A performer since childhood (starting at the age of 7 when he worked on "The Jack Benny Program," first on the radio and later on TV) his career is also defined by his on camera performances, notably in 1984's "This Is Spinal Tap" and 2003's "A Mighty Wind."

When asked about a worst moment in his career, he shared a story involving his characters from both comedy films.

My worst moment ...


"At the turn of this century, my collaborators Christopher Guest and Michael McKean and I did a Spinal Tap tour. It wasn't as extensive at the one we had done seven years earlier, but it was a nice tour. We played the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles, the Hard Rock in Vegas and Carnegie Hall in New York.

"This was before 'A Mighty Wind' came out and we thought it would be funny if this other band that we did, which was called the Folksmen, opened for Spinal Tap - because the worst opening act you could imagine for a heavy metal hard rock band is this superannuated folk trio. That idea amused us; it amused us less when we had to go through wardrobe and hair and makeup changes, but it was still amusing.

"The tour went so well that our promoter booked us for a return to New York and this last show was at the Beacon Theatre. But unlike the other dates, (the marketing for the show) didn't say, 'Plus opening act,' or 'Plus the Folksmen.' It didn't say anything like that.

"So we come out as the Folksmen and the audience is obviously expecting Spinal Tap. And they start going, 'Tap! Tap! Tap! Tap!' And we can't break character and say, 'No, no, no - we're the guys you like! Come on!'


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